Sunday 11th November 2018 marked the 100th anniversary, or centenary, of the end of the First World War. Throughout the UK people came out in their thousands to attend their local Remembrance service at churches and war memorials - in fact our very own Louis Totaro spent his Sunday tirelessly travelling to various churches as Tower Captain of Oakham All Saints Church and Ringing Master of the Rutland Bell Ringers. Let's hear Louis's story on how the day went, starting with his itinerary...
08:45 - 09:15 - Hambleton Service
Travel to Oakham
9:55 - Oakham Morning Service
Travel to Caldecott
10:30 - 11:00 - Caldecott Morning Service
Cup of tea and a bacon cob (finally)
Travel to Great Casterton
12:30 - 13:00 - Great Casterton Afternoon Service
Travel to Oakham and removing the muffles from the bells
14:00 - 14:30 - Oakham Afternoon service
Coffee and relax for a bit.
Check in with other ringers and coordinators that other towers were being rung.
18:30 - 19:20 – Battle’s Over: Oakham Evening service.
A Word on Remembrance
I've rang the bells at various churches on many Remembrance Day services over the years, but this year stood out as the most poignant. There was more of a complete mark of respect this year, and bell ringers across the country have said that this was to be their biggest day of the year. Normally for us it's Christmas Day and Easter Sunday, but this year it was, and will be, Remembrance Day.
When I first started ringing there were approximately 120,000 registered bell ringers in the country, but now we are down to 40,000, so I suppose it demonstrates that bell ringing is, unfortunately, a dying art. It's important to bring the next generation of bell ringing through to keep the art alive - I'm considered one of the youngsters and I'm 41! It's a lot of hard work and I'm absolutely exhausted today, but it's a great activity as it is physically and mentally challenging, sociable and free to do.
I felt very close to the emotion of the day and the impact of The Great War because there were extra celebrations for the centenary year. An example of this was in Oakham with the Big Poppy project at Oakham Castle, which displayed 10,000 hand-made ceramic poppies in a sea of red, which looked absolutely fantastic.
Also, as part of Rutland Remembers, there were 651 little wooden crosses placed out in perfect lines in Oakham churchyard, each with a poppy and a name to represent every person that either lived, was born or was associated with Rutland that died during the Great War. I have also been involved with placing red gel on the floodlights pf the church so that at night it would be floodlit in red, which looked eerie but impressive!
My job is twofold. Firstly I am a Tower Captain at Oakham All Saints Church, which entails representing and leading my team of ringers, conducting the actual ringing and teaching any learners. I guess you could say I am a link between the church’s representative and the ringers, but I am also in charge of liaising with organisations like the British Legion, the Lord Lieutenant of Rutland, The Council etc., and making sure that our particular section of the event goes without a hitch and fits in with their wider celebrations. This role also involved maintenance and muffling of the bells, which is actually a relatively dangerous role, as they can weigh quite a bit!
The second part of my role is Ringing Master for the Rutland Branch of Bell Ringers, which forms the Peterborough Diocesan Guild of Church Bell Ringers. All the bell ringers in the country and beyond have memberships of guilds, and Rutland, as a county, falls under Peterborough's Guild along with 9 other branches.
In total there's about 900 bell ringers in our Guild, and Rutland has about 120 ringers and 32 ringable churches in the county; so my job is to organise all those other churches that were to be rung on the Sunday.
How do you do that, you might ask?
With a great, big spreadsheet!
I split the area into regions and then designated a couple of ringers as coordinators for 6-7 churches, then get them to organise ringers for each church. They let me know which towers they would like to ring in the morning, afternoon and evening and whether they have the ringers for them - if not then I have a look around at moving people from other areas to help out. The logistics of this is pretty hard - it's not as if you just turn up and ring, you have to set the bells for ringing as well which requires a fair bit of physical effort!
The whole scheme is nationally organised, and there were two parts to it. The first part was directed by the Central Council of Church Bellringers. It was agreed that in the morning church towers across the country would ring what they call 'half-muffled'. So they ring their normal church bells for their services in the morning, which are typically for the Remembrance service at 11am, but ringing half-muffled is different.
This is one of the jobs I do in charge at my tower which is tying leather pads around one side of the bell clapper, so that when the bell strikes it does so normally on one side and on the other side it ‘hums’, creating a very sombre sound. This was directed in the morning, followed by the two-minute silence at 11am. From 12:30pm onwards all bells across the country were encouraged to ring open (without the muffles). This year, with it being the centenary, it was more to mark the celebration of peace and freedom than marking the whole day as just remembrance. For their sacrifice we are able to celebrate.
The second part of the scheme was championed by Bruno Peek, who is a Pageant Master that brought together the "Battles Over" celebrations. These comprised of lighting beacons at 7pm, then at 7:05pm the bells ring out across the country. The original target was to have 1,000 churches across the countries ringing, but from what I understand there were a lot more that registered and took part.
After the ringing there was a town crier that would hail the great news. The reason why it was done at 7:05pm? This is that the actual time in 1918 when notification of the signed Armistice was received on these shores!
Learning to Ring
Throughout the year we have gradually encouraged a number of learners to take up bell ringing, so Rutland now has about a dozen new ringers. This year, as it is the centenary, The Central Council of Bell Ringers identified that during the Great War some 1,400 bell ringers were killed in action, so as another mark of respect it would be great if we could recruit another 1,400 bell ringers nationally.
The numbers came out a couple of nights ago and it actually transpired that nationally we have taught 2,640 new ringers (almost double the amount we targeted)! From what I gather, of the 32 churches I have in my region, all 32 churches got to be rung which is no easy feat.
I was quite shocked this year by the turnout of people - even if they weren't part of the service they were still standing outside of churches, waiting for the wreaths to be left out and last post to be played. I think because this year was a centenary there was more awareness in the media about the importance of Remembrance Day. As we have now got to the 100 year anniversary, we're now at the point where there are no direct survivors of The Great War - the people that have reached their centenary were children at the time and would not have fought and we are relying on their memories and past stories.
In my view it's more important than ever to preserve the stories we have from The Great War, and this level of commemoration should not only be done because of the 100 year anniversary, but every year. I'm delighted to have played my part in marking this historic event.